How far would you go to recycle?

We’ve talked this week about store cupboard cooking and making ingredients stretch across multiple meals. But how far will you go to recycle other items? This has been on my mind over the past few weeks.

During our holiday in Devon and Exmoor we got to experience other counties’ approaches to recycling, which differed from our own. At home we recycle cardboard, paper, tin cans and plastic bottles in pink plastic sacks, glass bottles and jars in a black plastic box, plus grass cuttings. These are collected fortnightly. For other items, such as batteries, we have to visit specific recycling plants. The managers of our Devon cottage were very switched on, explaining what guests must recycle and when the bins had to be put out for collection.

But the system was different and, it sounds daft, but it took a while for me to get the hang of it. There was a box outside for recyclables rather than a plastic bag, which is obviously greener than our own system, and cooked and uncooked food was recycled in a plastic bin kept in the kitchen and then transferred to a larger bin outside. Batteries were also recycled. It’s probably sad of me, but I was a bit excited by the food recycling! Basildon council are introducing cooked food recycling in October and I was curious to try it out. We work hard not to waste food at home, but there is still the occasional item of cooked food or cat food that winds up in the bin. After a week, our container was full – especially because we were without a compost heap. However, we couldn’t recycle yoghurt pots, food trays or cardboard there, which was a bit of a shame, so I brought these items home with me. We had the car, so it was easy just to throw these items in the boot, but I’m not sure how many other people might bother, especially if they were on foot.

What surprised me at the Exmoor campsite was how little recycling was done. Campers were asked not to waste water which was from a local spring. But each group were simply given a black plastic bag for rubbish, with no separate bins for tin cans or bottles, which was disappointing. However, DJ pointed out how remote the campsite was – we had to drive along a treacherously narrow path along a mountainside to get there – which may have affected refuse collection and he had a point. Perhaps an improvement would have been a sign asking campers to take recyclable items home.

But then I’m no angel either. Back home, I came upon an old chair which is taking up space in our bedroom. Noticing that a neighbour had put out a table for the bin men, I thought about doing the same. I carried the chair downstairs but a pang of guilt overcame me. I remembered I’d purchased it for £10 from a junk shop nine years ago. It served me faithfully as a computer chair until I got a more ergonomic one and I even wrote my first book perched on it. It is covered in bits of wallpaper and paint from when it played its part in decorating our home. OK, it isn’t pretty anymore and I doubt anybody on Freecycle would want it, but it didn’t deserve to end its life in a landfill site and I ought to know better. I told DJ when he got home and he reminded me that he uses the chair when he is decanting his homebrew. So instead of betraying it, I’ve decided to give my old friend a new lease of life either in our hallway or semi-retirement in our greenhouse, where at least it can spend its last working days in the sun. Who knows when we might need its decorating services again and wish we hadn’t thrown it away?

How far would you go to recycle unwanted items at home or on holiday? Should it be easier to do so? Leave a message and let me know your thoughts.

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10 Responses to How far would you go to recycle?

  1. Pratab says:

    hi, I have an old chair, which is dilapidated a little. I\’ll mail it to you. 😀

  2. Gabrielle says:

    I think I\’ve been recycling for so long that I find it impossible to throw away things that I know are recyclable. My local council will only collect plastic bottles, not other plastic, so I collect my non-bottle shaped plastic and give it to a friend at work whose council does take it. Our kerbside recycling doesn\’t take foil or tetrapak so I collect those and when I\’m passing the town car park that has special collection bins for these items, I drop them off. I\’m often surprised on holiday how little some councils will collect for recycling and more often than not I end up taking our recycling (and friends\’ if we\’re holidaying with other people) home to be collected. When no-one\’s looking at work, I\’ll sometimes have a quick look around my colleagues\’ bins and pull out anything that can be recycled (although they are pretty good after four years of training!). The council our office is in isn\’t great at recycling so I take home the card and foil and the same lovely friend takes the non-bottle shaped plastic.Okay, I\’m beginning to sound like a recycling nutter now, aren\’t I?! Think I\’d better stop there then!

  3. Sarah says:

    I totally agree with Gabrielle – it\’s a way of life now. I always look for recylcing opportunities at home and abroad, although I sometimes find it much harder overseas, depending on the country. In the UK, many beaches have recycling systems and when I recently stayed in a cottage in Devon (perhaps down the road from you Piper!) the chap next door told me when to leave out paper/bottles etc. Sadly, the cottage owners did not leave a note to keep things separately for recycling but many do. I have even been known to put clean plastic bottles and packaging back in the car and take them home to recycle if I could not find anywhere in the country. Luckily my council recycles absolutely everything. They give us blue bins for all the plastic/cans/paper/glass altogether, green for garden and food waste and black for non-recyclable items (of which there are almost none). I think if more councils let residents put plastic/cans/paper/glass in one bin, instead of different ones, then people would find the whole thing easier. I\’m sure it will happen…

  4. Pratab says:

    Sorry for this moan. In my area we have black boxes for glass recycling that comes around on a rota of 3 wks. Last week was glass collection. A person a several doors down must have had a gathering and thus had loads of beer bottles. However, they must have misplaced their black box and instead used their green box (which is reserved for paper and card). So, the recylcing men didn\’t take the bottles. :-/@sarah M: Though your idea would make it easier for the citizens. It would mean the respective councils would have to employ people to sort out our recyclables. The current coalition government "ConDem Nation" are cutting jobs. So, very likely that they\’d not like your idea.

  5. Pratab says:

    >>employ people to sort out our recyclablesSorry I should\’ve elaborated on this. I understand that people are employed to sort out our sorted recyclables already. But a mixed set of recyclables would mean more man hours per sorting person.

  6. Flo says:

    Nightmare scenario as we are a very rural and holiday area. There\’s one bin collected fortnightly for recycling that takes plastic bottles (shampoo, milk cartons, pop bottles, washing up that sort of thing) but you are supposed to take the tops off to make them easy to squash and put the tops in the general landfill bin (plastic tops! but it\’s still manual sorting so these are too hard to handle in the general run of things). The paper off cola bottles and such like is the wrong sort of paper to be recycled. Margarine cartons, vegetable cartons and yogurt pots are landfill (who knows why). Foil can be taken to the household waste recycling centre and put in the cans skip (who is going to go miles out of their way to do that?). Tin cans no problem but you have to rinse them out and take the paper label off. Paper is fine (but not waxed paper) as are telephone directories and yellow pages. Biscuit wrappers are the wrong sort of paper (crinkly so land fill). Thin cardboard is fine (if clean, no pizza boxes thank you) but corrugated cardboard gets caught in the conveyors so is landfill (you can take it and put it in paper banks mind you). There’s no kerbside collection of glass or tetrapaks though there are recycling bins all round for glass and sometimes for tetrapaks. So that’s a take it yourself if you are fit enough and landfill bin if you are not. Nothing locally for worn out material or shoes (obviously business locally for recycling this). Landfill goes fortnightly. Garden waste is also collected weekly in summer and monthly at other times. Since there was a charge bought in for garden waste locally after we went into a unitary authority (had been free to support local business set up to handle it and produce soil improver) this service is less used. That was a very short lived service with regard to wide usage. And absolutely nothing for kitchen waste. If you peel your spuds in the garden, that’s garden waste. If you peel them in the kitchen, that’s kitchen waste ……Left over tins of paint for decorating are hazardous waste and none of the household waste recycling centres are licensed to handle the stuff. There are no supermarkets with plastic take back schemes locally either. There is the local supermarket down road does a very local delivery service (you go round shop, go to till and then get it put onto van if you can’t carry it home) and the van is very small so can’t handle crates – so everything is packed in plastic carrier bags. Furniture and large household items can be collected by the council under the bulky waste scheme but are not recycled so far as I know. Electrical gear does get sorted and recycled even at the local tip! Of course, the rules change periodically if a recycling business changes what it will take or goes out of business. The answer lies in the retail experience – don’t buy the rubbish I think.

  7. piper says:

    Wow…I have to say how impressed I am by everybody\’s recycling efforts. Why does it have to be so complicated in some areas? Will have to find out from a recycling expert I know at our local plant.

  8. Flo says:

    Piper, I\’m sure recycling depends on local businesses having the capacity to handle stuff and have uses for various items when recycled as well as the distance things have to be transported from bin to business by way of sorting centres.. Devon, Cornwall and Northumberland are sparsely populated and the distances involved are great whereas London is dense and distance will be less. If you are in a sparsely populated area there will be less of each sort of recyclable items so that will put up the cost as well as the costs of transport from bin to wherever by way of sorting centres. Recycling has to have a business case rather than relying on local or national government funding?

  9. Kerri says:

    Flo, my local recycling scheme takes very much the same things as yours, though we have never had anything for green/garden waste.We had two boxes, one black that takes cardboard and paper etc, and then a purple box was also introduced for plasics (bottles only, not margarine tubs etc), and tin cans (no foil) . Later glass was also added to the purple boxes after much local pressure.Over the past year or so our local council have been trialling \’all in one\’ blue wheelie bins, that accept the same items but everything goes into one, lidded wheelie bin rather than two uncovered boxes which tbh was a slight bug bear in the fact they attracted ants, flies and wasps in the summer. Also, when you lifted them up to put out for collection you\’d get water all over you draining out if it had been raining – ugh! The local scheme offers reward points that you can use for money off local businesses (and a few bigger names).There are two things about local recycling that I have to query though. Our local recycling says \’bottles only\’ for plastic, so does this only include drink bottles? what about other plastic tubes/bottles etc that have the recycling symbol on them – can I include these or not? Also, our council (as many others) requests that you rinse all glass/bottles etc, but surely then I am increasing my water consumption using water I wouldn\’t normally. I would use washing up water but have a dishwasher, and in the summer can try and save the \’rinse\’ water for the plants but I can\’t help thinking that encoraging people to use more water to rinse items for recycling isn\’t exactly enviromentally friendly? btw the council is running a competition for the most imaginative way to reuse our old recycling boxes which they have decided aren\’t cost effectvie to be collected and (somewhat ironically) cannot be recycled, so suggestions on a postcard please 🙂

  10. Flo says:

    Kerri, yes we are allowed to put drinks bottles into our recycling and milk cartons. I doubt if you can include other plastic tubes/bottles because there are so many varieties and they are not all made of the same sort of plastic. Yes, we have lidded wheelie bins for recycling but we aren\’t allowed glass because it\’s what they call "co-mingled" and we have to go to the bottle banks with those. You are spot on about the water usage but unfortunately the recycling process doesn\’t deal with anything that isn\’t clean. Here we are told that if it\’s not clean it can condemn the whole load to landfill. That\’s why they won\’t take tin foil here – people used to put it in the bin uncleaned or even full of food! Yuck.

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